by Joyce Bahr
How can we as members of the American society expedite passage of laws allowing access to identifying information and original birth certificates.? The history of adoption has a scary side to it filled with secrets, lies and shame. According to the Journal of Social History pregnancy out of wedlock was not a traumatic event before the Victorian Era. It was shortly after this time unmarried pregnant women became known as ruined and shame lowered their self-esteem. Adoption agencies sprung up to process the offspring of the guilty women who were destined to lose their child, and for some their first and only child. In the 1970's the Women's Movement and the Adoption Reform Movement instilled in both adoptees and natural parents a sense self and empowerment to emancipate themselves by searching.
Today is Halloween and I have to say the word horror comes to mind for women who were forced to surrender children by manipulative social workers who rode brooms on their way to church. The Protestants, Catholics and Jews were there to let pregnant women know if they loved their baby they would do what was best for it. Religion played a big part in adoption and adoption laws and does so to this day. I surrendered at a Lutheran agency in Chicago, an agency which opened it's heart to the injustice perpetrated against women and adoptees, and reunited me in with my son in 1986. A handful of Catholic agencies have been kind enough to help adoptees and natural/birth mothers reunite over the years and Catholic Charities of Albany supports the New York Bill of Adoptee Rights. However the Catholic Conference of New Jersey wants birth certificates sealed forever which is a mystery to be unraveled. Will we ever know the real reasons they want birth certificates sealed?
Did agencies promise surrendering mothers anything? No, and have most agencies offered to help birth/natural mothers reunite with the surrendered child now an adult? No.
Imagine Margaret's situation, the horror of learning forty years later there was no order adoption processed. She surrendered her son Tommy as an infant in Atlanta, Georgia in 1969.After giving birth to Tommy in Palm Beach county, Florida she relocated to Atlanta where she befriended a woman who helped arrange the supposed adoption. The friend is now deceased and all she remembers is meeting the adoptive mother who had dark hair and may have been of Costa Rican descent. She remembers receiving a photo of Tommy about age two from her friend and remembers he was well dressed and looked healthy. The state of Georgia recently changed it's law to offer search help for both adoptees and birth/natural parents through the state adoption registry and this gave her hope. However, her hope has turned to horror in her search for her only child born in July of 1968--there is no record in Georgia.
Perhaps he was adopted in another state, perhaps the adoptive parents raised him as if they gave birth to him. Of course Margaret has no record of anything she signed as it was common practice for a surrendering mother not to obtain a record. Margaret surrendered Tommy because she felt she couldn't give him what two parents could, and actually there was no reason for her not to have received a copy of whatever she signed.
There are only three states assisting birth/natural parents in their search, Illinois. Tennessee and Georgia. There are six states giving adult adoptees rights to a copy of their original birth certificate, Alaska, Alabama, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire and Oregon. Maine's law passed in June of 2007 and will be enacted in January of 2009.
Alaska and Kansas are two states which never sealed birth certificates and have direct or unfettered access laws. Alabama, Oregon, Maine and New Hampshire have laws giving all adult adoptees at age eighteen a copy of their birth certificate, and giving birth parents the option of a contact preference. The contact preference option is a choice of yes. I would like to be contacted, yes, I would like to be contacted but through an intermediary and no , do not contact me.
New York's Bill of Adoptee Rights has a contact preference and is very similar to the four states with contact preference laws. It's time for adoptee rights and an end to a law which has out lived its purpose. A law which discriminates against the very people it was meant to protect.
Please support Bills A2277 sponsored by New York Assemblymember David Koon and S235 sponsored by Senator William Larkin.